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Excerpt: A Touch of Passion

Book 3: The Disgraced Lords

Suddenly the door she’d just swept through opened and a man stepped into the corridor, closing the door quietly behind him. A fresh hint of ginger and sandalwood scent caused her to flare her nostrils. She knew without looking who it was.

“What the blazes do you think you’re doing here?” Portia winced at the familiar sound of Grayson’s voice.

She glanced up to find his handsome features clouded in anger. He probably had no idea that his scolding tone set her heart racing—and not in fright.

“Merely observing. Unlike you, I suspect.”

He was looking up and down the corridor. “I should tell Robert and let him wring that pretty neck of yours.”

She smiled. He’d said pretty neck. “How did you recognize me?”

He stepped closer almost vibrating with suppressed anger. She pressed back into the wall. His hand reached beside her ear, and a finger wound around a stray curl and tugged. “I’d recognize hair this vibrant red anywhere. So would many others.”

She struggled to think as her body reacted to his proximity. His light fragrance sent her senses reeling. She decided to come out fighting. “I should have known you’d attend this event.”

A growl rumbled deep in his chest. “Well, I had no bloody idea you would. What would Robert think if he saw you? It would break his heart. He has enough to worry about without his wayward sister causing another scandal.”

Portia tried to understand the meaning behind his words. What had Robert to worry about? Before she could ask he added, “Your selfishness knows no bounds. First it was your cider business, which you flaunted in society’s face, and now you’re at a Cyprians’ Ball.” His eyes narrowed, and he drew in a breath. “Why Robert hasn’t seen you married off, I’ll never know.”

“I have no intention of being married off to be a nobleman’s baby maker. I will not marry unless it is to my heart’s desire.”

“Is that why you are here? Are you here to meet a lover?”

“No.” Her anger was aroused by his sanctimonious words. “But if I were, it would be none of your business. I don’t condone double standards.”

“The world is full of double standards. These are the rules we live by. Robert needs to leave knowing his family is protected. He can’t have his mind filled with worry over his—”

“Leave?” She put her hand up to her mouth to stop the nausea rising. “He’s going to war, isn’t he?” Grayson’s lips firmed, and his curse was her answer. “No.” She shook her head. “He’s the eldest, the heir. He can’t.” She looked at Grayson with wide eyes. “Oh, God. You are both going.”

Grayson could not look her in the eye. “I’m going to fight Napoleon because of Robert, to protect him.”

She pushed her mask off her face. “Why is Robert going? You are the last of your line. You can’t go,” she said crossly.

“Robert is going to watch over your brother Philip. He’s scared the young hothead will try to do something heroic but stupid and get himself killed.”

Portia slumped against the wood. Philip was only a year younger than Robert and four years older than her. Robert and Philip were very close. Philip had been declaring his intention to fight the French. She hated the idea of war. She was sure that if women were in charge of this world, there would not be any war. A woman who bore a child would never want him to fight.

“Can I appeal to the small part of you that is a Flagstaff and ask that you give Robert no reason to worry? At least until this war is over. Then you can go back to your scandalous ways.”

Crestfallen and feeling thoroughly chastised, she nodded. “Of course.”

“Good.” He was just about to step clear when the door beside them opened.

“I say, Grayson, the ladies are eagerly waiting.”

Robert! Her eyes flew to Grayson’s in alarm. He immediately pressed her back against the wall, his large body shielding her from Robert’s eyes.

He whispered in her ear, “Put your arms around me. Pretend this is an illicit liaison.”

She did what she was told, her body afire with sensation as his lips trailed down her neck. The material covering his hard thighs rasping against her bare legs exposed through her harem outfit.

“I’ll be right with you. I’m just reacquainting myself with an old friend.” The low, husky sound titillated her skin as his fingers caressed her bare stomach.

Robert seemed to hesitate, seeming to notice the possessive stance behind his words. “I’ll keep the other ladies entertained until you can join us. Unless you’d like to share the lady who has kept you so occupied that you’d keep five exquisite beauties waiting.”

Portia froze. The feelings and desires sweeping through her seemed to be scrambling her brain. If her brother found her like this, in Grayson’s arms . . . Thankfully, Grayson was in control. “No need. The beauty in my arms never shares. I’ll be along soon.”

Robert shrugged and clapped him on the back. Portia pushed herself fully into Grayson’s embrace, hiding as much of herself as she could.

Robert chuckled. “I see how it is. You always keep the best for yourself. However, it leaves the field open on five delicious ladies until you return.” With that he slipped back through the door into the ballroom.

She was surprised when Grayson did not immediately push away. He continued to hold her trapped, and warmth radiated from his chest, infusing her breasts with a delicious heaviness.

She tried to move. “You can let me go now. I’m sure the ladies are waiting for you.”

His eyes smiled into hers. “That almost sounds like jealousy.”

Of course it did. She was jealous, but she was not about to let him know that. “Don’t be ridiculous. If you remember, I left as soon as you arrived. Why would I be jealous?”

“So, you’re saying you’re unaffected by me?”

What game was he playing? Portia found her gaze riveted on Grayson’s lips, watching them move, wondering what they would feel like. She shook her head. What had he asked?

“Of course I’m not jealous. Not every woman wants to fall into your bed.”

“Liar. I can feel your heart pounding in your chest.”

“We were almost caught by my brother. He does allow me more leeway than most men, but dressed like this, in your arms . . . There would have been consequences.”

He reached up and slid his fingers behind her nape, and her breathing faltered as she watched his lips draw nearer. “So if I were to kiss you, you’d feel nothing?”

He didn’t allow her to reply but drew her mouth up to meet his. He allowed his lips, soft and firm at the same time, to play over hers like a maestro. Liquid heat washed over her, making her light-headed. She was losing herself in his kiss. She wanted to experience everything his kiss had to offer, and never leave his embrace.

After only moments she felt him begin to pull away. Blast! She was determined to have more.

Her arms tightened further around his shoulders and she pushed deeper into his embrace. He hesitated for a second, as if understanding that the decision he made in the next few seconds would change their world. Portia wasn’t about to let her fantasy get away, though. She ran her tongue over his lips and his body shuddered. His mouth slanted more fully over hers, totally possessing her, seemingly a decision made.

His tongue swept into her mouth as if he couldn’t get enough. A groan rumbled deep in his chest and he pushed her against the wall. She could feel the hardened length of him against her stomach. Her thin harem pantaloons afforded her no protection from his considerable maleness.

Portia gave into the powerful urges in her body. The overwhelming feelings of desire swept her away. She was living her fantasy: Grayson in her arms, making love to her. She moaned into his mouth.

In response, his kiss deepened. His hands ran tenderly over her body. When his knuckles skimmed the upper swells of her breasts, she thought she’d faint from need. As if on instinct she lifted a leg to his hip, opening her womanhood to the feel of his powerful erection. She moaned feverishly as his hand held her leg in place and he moved against her, rubbing the exact spot that seemed to be on fire.

His other hand found her breast and when his fingertips discovered her hardened nipple, fire streaked through her body flooding her veins with smoldering heat. He soon had her breasts freed from their inadequate covering. When he broke their kiss she was bereft until his mouth latched onto one peaked nipple and suckled. She bucked against him, rubbing his hardness.

He reciprocated, grinding against her, driving her mad with his caresses, encouraging her response, coaxing her wildness until she almost lost her mind. She could feel herself traveling to some unknown point. Her body knew the destination but not quite how to get there. “Grayson, oh God, please.”

Suddenly Grayson stopped, his mouth leaving her body. Both of them were breathing heavily, and a wave of frustration swamped her.

It was as if time stood still. His gaze fixed on her bare breasts, where moisture from where he’d recently been suckling glimmered in the dim light.

He dropped her leg as if he’d been burned and stepped away. “Oh, God, Portia . . . My behavior is appalling. Please forgive me.”

“It was not all your fault.”

He didn’t reply. He simply reached out with one large hand to pull her clothing back into place, covering her still-exposed breasts.

“This should never have happened. It’s untenable.”

Color flooded her face, and she looked away. But why should she be ashamed? She had not started this, and he had been aroused. She looked at his groin and saw he was still aroused. “Why is it untenable?”

He looked horrified as he followed her gaze and realized she knew of his condition. He seemed to hesitate. “Because you’re like a sister to me. Robert trusts me with you.”

She moved toward him, and he took a step back. “I must admit I’ve never wanted to do anything like this with my brothers.” She couldn’t help teasing him. “Why kiss me, then?”

“I had hoped to teach you a lesson. To make you see what trouble you could land yourself in with this continued scandalous behavior. If any other man had followed you into this corridor . . . Unlike me, he would not have stopped.” At her silence he added, “Is that how you want to lose your virginity? Against the wall like a common whore?”

She involuntarily flinched at his cruel words. He’d taught her something: that he was not immune to her, and that he was quite capable of thinking of her as a woman. “It taught me that you desire me.”

“I do not.”

“I may not be as experienced as you, but I can recognize an aroused man.”

Seeming to gather his composure, he straightened his cravat and scoffed, “I’ve been aroused since I walked into the Cyprians’ Ball. It has nothing to do with you, but merely the amount of delectable flesh on display. Most men react, as I did, to scantily clad women.”

Just like that, he squashed her confidence and broke her heart. Stupidly she’d thought there were feelings behind his kiss. Obviously not. This was why she needed experience. To her untutored body, his kisses felt as if he could not live without her.

She did not know what to say. Tears were welling in her eyes, and she wanted to leave. She turned away and started to walk down the passage. “I shall leave you to get on with your amusements, then. I’d prefer not to be one of many. If any woman will do, I suggest you go find one who’s obliging.”

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